The meeting of the NYC Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) scheduled for today in Brooklyn--which would have fulfilled the VAB's chartered mandate to hold at least one meeting open to the public in each borough on an annual basis--has been cancelled. The meeting has been rescheduled for January 23, 2018, for a Brooklyn location that is not yet identified.
This cancellation is unfortunately consistent with the VAB’s pattern of lagging behind in its ability to fulfill its chartered mandate:
-- Information about the VAB's meetings and activities on the DVS website has not been consistently updated or fully accurate.
-- Attendance of VAB meetings by its members—who each accepted three-year appointments by either the Mayor or the Speaker of the NYC Council—has averaged below 60% over the last two years, with at least two of this year’s meetings not meeting quorum. (Information on the September meeting is unavailable as of this posting.)
-- Attendance of the public at VAB meetings has been sparse, and possibly in part due to the lack of clarity within our community of what the VAB has been working toward as body independent of DVS.
We believe the VAB has an important role in representing the concerns, ideas, and interests of the NYC veterans community to the Commissioner of DVS, as intended in the City Charter, and that the VAB should both have better support from City government, as well as doing more as a body to fulfill its obligations. We therefore make the following recommendations:
1. Appointment and Continued Service of VAB Members Should Be Contingent on Attendance and Participation. The veterans advocacy community fought hard for the reforms we saw in 2015 that opened VAB meetings to the public in all five boroughs, and that brought public transparency to its deliberations and activities. As the terms of current members expire, consideration should be given to each members' overall attendance record, participation, and professional conduct as a political appointee before being reappointed.
2. City Government Must Provide Appropriate Support. The VAB, as an all-volunteer advisory body of vetted political appointees, relies completely on City resources for technical and logistical support. Areas where this support should be improved include:
City Email Addresses. While even interns (non-employees, often students for one semester) are able to utilize city email addresses and IT systems, VAB members, who are appointed for three-year terms, still are not able to use these systems. We pointed this out nearly two years ago, and we bring this up yet again as a critical point of the VAB's success.
Updated Website Information. Beyond the ability to communicate using City technology, information about the VAB must be kept up to date. Videos of several meetings are not, as of the date of this posting, available online. Meeting minutes from the September 2017 VAB meeting are not yet available. At a very minimum, the VAB must receive all appropriate support for keeping information about the VAB fully updated for the benefit of our community.
Meeting Logistics. If the VAB is unable to independently secure facilities to hold annual meetings in each of the five boroughs, the City should provide appropriate and timely assistance to allow the VAB to plan and announce public meetings in advance. If DVS staff cannot assist, VAB members must be afforded resources within City government who can.
3. City Government and VAB Members Must Prioritize Chartered Mandates. As citizens, we should expect City government to uphold what is contained in its charter, including voluntary political appointees. The VAB is mandated by law to
a) advise the DVS commissioner
b) hold one meeting in each borough each year
c) record its deliberations
d) determine its own rules of procedure
e) submit an annual report no later than December 31 that includes all of the VAB's activities and recommendations
If VAB members are not each actively and reasonably engaged in accomplishing these ends--then our community must ask why they remain appointees.
The NYC Veterans Alliance continues to stand in support of the success of the VAB. We have worked to publicize VAB meetings to our email subscribers and OurVeterans.NYC visitors, and we have had our members and staff attend whenever possible. We are appreciative of the open dialogue we have with the VAB Chair, Todd Haskins, and we look forward to continued conversation and collaboration, even as we may have differing approaches to serving the NYC veterans community.
We offer to the VAB to host the 2018 Manhattan meeting at Civic Hall, our community space in Chelsea. We also offer to provide a list of our nominees for future appointment to the VAB, drawing from our active veteran members who would energetically help the VAB accomplish its chartered ends. We further encourage veterans and community organizations across the five boroughs to similarly offer meeting space and nominees to the VAB to help it grow and advance as a robust and effective advisory board that serves its intended purpose.
Contact information for current VAB members, including term expiration dates, can be found HERE.